Phil Noble story on oilfield deaths
Energy companies count Wyoming oilfield deaths wrong, labor leader says
by Phil Noble, Cowboy State Free Press Bureau Chief
CHEYENNE–”They (energy companies) would love you to believe people are dying from car wrecks,” Wyoming AFL-CIO head Kim Floyd said in response to recent testimony to a legislative committee about high transportation deaths contributing to Wyoming’s status as leading the nation in workplace fatalities.
“They’re counting the deaths (from oilfield accidents) wrong. if you’re working in the oil field on a pipeline and you die, that’s counted under transportation. The same if you’re driving a truck loaded with pipe–that goes under transportation,” he said.
Floyd serves on a safety committee put together by Gov. Dave Freudenthal, which includes representatives from industry and others. Floyd said at a recent meeting “23 safety guys from the oil and gas industry filled the room,” indicating to him that industry has too much sway on the committee.
The state Occupational Safety and Health Administration program needs to be revamped in light of the fact that Wyoming leads the nation in workplace deaths, he said.
“Alaska used to be number one, until NIOSH (the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) came in a cut the number of deaths by 46 percent,” he said.
Floyd and others on the committee hope NIOSH can do the same thing here. “The same people who worked on Alaska are working in Wyoming now,” Floyd said.
“OSHA doesn’t go in (to investigate an accident) unless three people are hurt. If you get killed the Sheriff’s office goes in, not OSHA,” he said. “Once we can prove this is smoke and mirrors we can change Worker’s Comp,” he added, referring to Wyoming’s Worker’s Compensation system, which allows employers a form of no-fault insurance.
But, he said, there is not quick fix for the problem. “It’ll take three to five years to get to bottom of thing. But, the bottom line is, they’re killing people and we don’t know the real story,” he said.
Floyd says he’s hopeful, though, that the situation will change in spite of the fact that the legislature’s Joint Interim Judiciary Committee defeated a proposed workplace injury law. “That won’t stop (Rep. Keith) Gingrey or (Sen. Tony) Ross from introducing a bill in the next session, though,” Floyd said.
Floyd said the safety committee on which he serves will make recommendations to the state OSHA. “The Governor has said we need to strengthen OSHA fines because they listen to their pocketbooks,” Floyd said.